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Correlate Clinically:Radiologists and Listening Prayer

Updated: Nov 2, 2021


Being an ER doc, I order a lot of X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. These usually get read by radiologists, who will often write “correlate clinically” in their reports.

Sometimes the radiographic answer is obvious and we’re 99% percent sure the appendix is inflamed, or it looks like cancer, or the artery is fully occluded. But a lot of times they just see clues, and a definitive diagnosis isn’t possible. So, when a radiologist sees something suspicious, they write “XYZ finding noted, could possibly represent ABC — please correlate clinically.

The radiologist is really saying, “I did my part… your turn again. I can’t see your patient at the bedside like you can — what do they look like? Does my read of the image make sense in the full context of the clinical picture? Does the patient look sick? Are the labs consistent? What does your spidey sense say?”

This usually frustrates me, because I’m often busy and just want a definitive answer so I can decide what to do with the patient. Just tell me if you see a hairline fracture or a tiny abscess or tell me if that stuff in the brain looks acute. Don’t make me work too hard, don’t put the ball back in my court. Just give me the answer. I’m frustrated because I don’t want a teammate; I want a freaking genie in a bottle.

It’s my job to decide if what the radiologist “sees” is relevant or not. Sometimes I’ll call the radiologist and discuss my specific concerns more in detail, and you’d be amazed how many times this changes what their eyes pick up — context is always helpful. But usually I have to go back to the patient, take a closer look, buy myself some time, get a different type of image, ask a colleague, dig deeper.

I’ve been thinking of this lately as I’ve been practicing listening to God. I pray and then take some time to “listen.” Pretty simple. Sometimes I get these words or images that flash across my mind, and my first inclination is to think, “Aha, the answer is coming!” I want the exercise to end with a definitive diagnosis and conclusion.

Most of the time, though, this obviously isn’t what happens. At best what I hear is a clue, and I sense the need to “correlate clinically.” Sitting and “listening” is only one aspect of the way God speaks to me. Some stuff I see or think or feel sticks, and some doesn’t – it’s sometimes hard to know what is from God and what isn’t. I usually have to go looking, digging deeper to uncover the truth God might be trying to show me. Maybe that means I give myself time and revisit it later. Maybe I talk to someone about it. Maybe I ask again. I ask myself if I’m genuinely trying to have open eyes and an open heart. This can help me confirm or make sense of what I think God is leading me to.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a cabin loft while a couple of near-strangers tried listening prayer for me — they basically asked God what He wanted them to tell me, and then they sat and listened.

When it was over, one woman said, “God showed me over and over again the word, ‘Enough.’ You’ll have to ask God what that means for you.”

Another shared with me, “I saw an image of an hourglass full of sand, but the sand wasn’t ever going to run out.”

A third said, “Hmm, all I saw was a frosty margarita… so, take that for what it’s worth.”

Then they helped me correlate clinically. They couldn’t have known that for a few months now I’ve been wrestling with the exact question “What is enough?” I’ve been tired of the rat race and worldly external influences. God has led me to a few podcasts, sermons, books, and devotionals all talking about that exact question. Am I enough? What is enough work, screen time, money, commitments, friends? Why am I so busy? These women did not know how “on the clock” I can feel sometimes, just hoping that I can do enough before the hourglass sand runs out, or worried that something bad will eventually happen and I have to enjoy XYZ while it lasts. These listening prayers were deeply moving and freeing to me.

For the record, I’m still thinking about the frosty marg. Maybe it’s nothing besides something to laugh at. My tendency is to want answers quickly and easily. But I’m beginning to see how listening to God can often necessitate that we “correlate clinically.” I’ve come to see that He is for me – He trusts me and wants to join me in the process, not just dropping answers like a genie-in-a-bottle.

Conor M.

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